Monday, March 25, 2013

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s post contains a series of articles cover a variety of topics. The first is from “The Diplomat” website, the next two are from “The Guardian & the last is from the “Der Spiegel” website:


By Pratyush
March 22, 2013

EBG6NYSM4VCJOn March 21, India voted in favor of a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council calling for Sri Lanka to conduct an independent and credible investigation into alleged war crimes. The UN believes that as many as 40,000 people may have been killed in the final stages of a bloody, 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam, more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers).

A report released by the UN in 2011 issued a damning indictment of the Sri Lankan government’s actions during the conflict and called on Colombo to “issue a public, formal acknowledgment of its role in and responsibility for extensive civilian casualties in the final stages of the war.”

India’s vote against Sri Lanka comes days after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party withdrew from a coalition led by the ruling United Progressive Alliance government. Although it is historically rare for foreign policy issues to dominate the domestic political discourse in India, this convention has increasingly been challenged in recent years. Though foreign policy was long the preserve of the prime minister’s office and to a lesser degree the External Affairs Ministry, it is becoming decentralized, as seen in India’s vote against Sri Lanka.

There is a public perception that foreign policy is elitist, which stems from the belief that issues pertaining to foreign powers are too remote to matter in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. For much of India’s history, that may well have been the case.

The policies of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and one of the main proponents of the principle of non-alignment – a doctrine that defined Indian foreign policy during much of the Cold War – went unquestioned for decades. However, the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union forced India to question many of the ideals underpinning Nehru’s non-alignment philosophy, as New Delhi was forced to confront a multi-polar world.

Yet, despite the contours of a globalizing world, Indian foreign policy making remained largely confined to New Delhi. The executive’s authority on foreign matters remained a constant during the 1990s and well into the new millennium.

This might explain the astonishing level of consensus seen in Indian foreign policy throughout that time, irrespective of the stance of the ruling party or coalition at a given time, particularly since 1991.

India’s relationship with Israel is a case in point. Every Indian government since 1992, irrespective of its political creed, has engaged with both Washington and Tel Aviv. Foreign policy has consistently been one of the few areas where strong political consensus has cut across party lines.

However, the era when governments could make crucial foreign policy decisions without public debate may well be over. For one, along with the rise of India’s international profile is the growing influence of an increasingly educated and influential middle class with a global perspective. Then there is the ever-growing Indian diaspora – most notably in the U.S., UK, Canada and the Persian Gulf – which sends billions of dollars in foreign remittances to India. Electoral vote-banks or not, these two groups are becoming constituencies that no Indian government can ignore.

India’s fragmented politics and the era of coalition governments has also ensured the decentralization of foreign policy making. Politicians must increasingly sell foreign policy to the masses. The Congress Party, heading the UPA government, had to cloak a landmark civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed between India and the U.S. in 2008 as a roti, kapda, makan (bread, clothes and housing) issue – which would help provide electricity to powerless Indian villages. For his part, Omar Abdullah, now the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, delivered a stirring speech in 2008 to the Indian parliament, seeking to dispel the notion that the India-U.S. nuclear deal was directed against Muslims.

“I see no reason why I, as a Muslim, have to fear a deal between India and the United States of America,” Abdullah said. “This is a deal between two countries. It is a deal between, we hope, two countries that in the future will be two equals.”

There was more to come. Addressing the speaker of the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament during a no-confidence motion against the UPA government, Abdullah added, “Sir, the enemies of Indian Muslims are not the Americans, and the enemies of the Indian Muslims are not ‘deals’ like this. The enemies of Indian Muslims are the same enemies that all the poor people of India face – poverty and hunger, unemployment, lack of development and the absence of a voice.”

For the poor, those enemies are unlikely to be vanquished any time soon. But a more open policymaking process seems at least a step in the right direction.

Image credit: Wikicommons

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'If girls look sexy, boys will rape.' Is this what Indian men really believe?


A shocking series of brutal attacks has led to a national debate on sexual violence. The Observer asked a group of young men in Goa for their views. The talk revealed a disturbing mindset

A woman waits at a food stall in Delhi. Many in the country say women should not be allowed out at night on their own. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP

"Rape is a big, big problem. It starts with the woman. They drive the man fucking crazy." Papi Gonzales leans back in his chair and surveys the other young Indian men around the table in his beach bar, seeking approval. They nod in agreement, eager to make their own points. "When the girls look sexy and the boys can't control themselves, they are going to rape. It happens," said Robin Shretha, one of the waiters.

Since a 23-year-old medical student was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi in December and later died in hospital from her injuries, the issue of rape has been hugely prominent in India. Last week headlines were dominated by the gang rape of a Swiss woman on a cycling holiday in Madhya Pradesh. In the same week a British woman leapt from her hotel window in the northern city of Agra at 4am to escape the unwanted attention of the hotel manager, who was trying to get into her room.

According to government figures, a rape takes place in India every 21 minutes. The number of reported rapes rose by 9% in 2011 to 24,000. Yet conviction rates are falling, down to 26% in 2011.

The recent cases have led to worldwide outrage, and demonstrations led by women have filled the streets of major cities. But what do India's young men think? The Observer gathered a group in the western region of Goa to hear their views. They were: Abhijit Harmalkar, 28, a driver; his brother, Avinash, 24, a factory worker; Bhivresh Banaulikar, 26, an auditor; Brindhavan Salgaonkar, 20, a factory worker; Robin Shretha, 21, a waiter; and Papi Gonzales, 32, the owner of the bar.

One word to describe their views would be "unreconstructed". Others would be "alarming" and "frightening". Plenty of Indian men have joined the recent demonstrations. Plenty of Indian men are committed to the cause of women's rights. But this discussion revealed the deep moral conservatism of some young Indian males, coupled with confusion about gender roles in a society where economic modernisation is outstripping social attitudes.

We are getting the blame, these men claimed, while no one is paying attention to the actions of young women, who need to understand that they should not be out on their own at night. "Our culture is different," said Abhijit Harmalkar. "Girls are not allowed outside after six [pm] because anything can happen – rape, robbery, kidnaps. It is the mentality of some people. They are putting on short and sexy dresses, that's why. Then men cannot control themselves."

Banaulikar nodded. "I have a sister. If she is out late at night, then I would be worried. After 7pm I would be worried. Men can't control themselves."

The men sit around a table in a bar overlooking the Arabian Sea. It is an idyllic scene: coconut palms edge the beaches, the sea is a deep blue, the temperature in the mid-30s. It is mid-morning, but already there are a few western tourists wandering along the beach – the men bare-chested in shorts, many of the women in bikinis. Groups of local men watch the women, discreetly taking pictures with their phones. When night falls, nearby bars will be packed with young people. This bar is only a couple of miles from where the body of British teenager Scarlett Keeling was found five years ago.

The 15-year-old had been raped and murdered. An on-off court case against two men has dragged on for years. No one believes that those responsible will face justice, and there appears to be no impetus among those in authority in the state to bring it to a conclusion. The truth is that in India there are many people who think a 15-year-old western girl out drinking in bars in the early hours of the morning was asking for trouble.

This collection of young men is a small, random sample, and plenty of Indians would find their views abhorrent. Foreigners thinking of visiting India – particularly young women – will find these views not only repulsive, but dangerous. Though this is a small sample, it is telling that they speak so openly, and it is clearly the case that other young Indian men would express similar thoughts – even if large numbers of their compatriots would find them shocking.

Sometimes the women lead the men on, those around the table said. Sometimes men are frustrated that women who have earlier flirted with them then ignore their advances. This is not how they themselves behave, but this is what happens, they said. "The Indian girls who come here, they don't behave, maybe there are some boys and the rape happens," said Shretha. "But sometimes they are not behaving sexy, not talking to the boys, and the boys are angrier and they think, 'I'll rape'.

"If they find them in a blind place, they are going to combine together with friends and they are going to rape them. If they [the women] talk nicely, they are OK. If they behave rudely, then they [the men] are going to be angry."

This group, while expressing these views, still maintain that the idea that women are second-class citizens in India is out of date. Everyone is equal now, they said, with women going out to work and making money too. "Before, for many years, girls were neglected, boys got opportunities. Girls did not get opportunities, but now it is equal. It is a new generation, no difference between girls and boys," said Shretha. Their notion of "equality" is impossible to square with the casualness with which they understand and even expect young men to visit sexual abuse on women.

The trouble is, they claim, that this new assertiveness among women is causing confusion for the men. "The main thing is the bank balance. Women are in love with the bank balance," said Gonzales.

"And a nice shiny car. Then everything is OK," said Salgaonkar. "You should not blame the boys every time," said Banaulikar. "If you have four girls, sometimes one is a prostitute type," said Avinash Harmalkar. "The others don't know their friend is a prostitute. It is common in college life," he claimed.

Such attitudes are not unusual. Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of president Pranab Mukherjee, himself an MP with the ruling Congress party, dismissed protesters after the Delhi rape as "dented and painted women". And religious guru Asaram Bapu suggested that the victim was not blameless, asking provocatively: "Can one hand clap?" Maybe if there were more prostitutes, there would be fewer problems for young women, the men suggested. "It keeps men happy," said Gonzales. "In Bombay, there are 20 places that I go sometimes. There are hundreds of places there. In Goa there are no places like that. And when we see the goras [whites] showing their bodies off, the Goan people react badly."

One answer, said the men, would be for the women's families to be stricter, preventing them going out at night. That is the traditional solution to keeping girls safe. "In Indian culture, our generation has grown up with respect for families," said Gonzales. "That's why we are scared of our parents. We behave as we are told to behave. Mum and Dad shout 'do this, do that' and we listen. But in the next generation everything has changed."

"Parents should stop the girls going out late at night," said Avinash Harmalkar. "Parents should set them free to live their own life, but parents should be strict about late nights, then this kind of crime will not happen." None of the men could understand why the medical student and her boyfriend had taken a bus in Delhi alone at night, the bus on which they were attacked. "At night-time no one goes in the bus," said Salgaonkar.

"You don't go as a single boyfriend and girlfriend in a late bus at 8.30pm. At that time anything can happen, because no one is in the bus," said Harmalkar. As for men who assault women on crowded buses, which happens frequently, they do so because they have the safety of numbers, he said, and because they don't understand that what they are doing is wrong. "They can't have a girlfriend. If they had a girlfriend they wouldn't act like this. In fact, if they had a sister they would not do this," said Salgaonkar. It was not the rape itself that provoked such anger, he said, but the violence. "The boys who raped her also violated her with a steel rod. If it was only sex, they would not have been so angry."

No one around the table had a simple solution, though Banaulikar said that the only way to stop rape was to keep young people busy and off the streets. "In my job I am always busy," he said. "I don't have time to do these things. If you keep them busy, you can stop them. It is the jobless men who are doing these things.

"If they see others doing this stuff, they copy them. It is the same for the girls. In the daytime she is a good girl, but no one knows what she does at night, and she persuades her friends to do the same." Parents should teach the difference between right and wrong, they said, and also schools.

Then there was the world of higher education, seen by these men as little more than dens of iniquity. "College life is different," said Avinash Harmalkar. "Anything can happen there. Girls and boys know everything about sex. The girls go from boy to boy."

Banaulikar added: "Some girls are doing things for money. They use the boy and then throw them away. So some boys are taking revenge. If someone wants to have sex, no one can stop them. And if you do not want to have sex, people will say you are not a man."

For anyone interested in the promotion of women's rights in India, this was an alarming, even frightening discussion. Last week the lower house of parliament passed new rape laws, which include the death penalty for the most extreme cases, and introduced punishments for stalking and assaulting women. But the all-male conversation by the sea in Goa ended on a note that did not offer much hope for the thousands campaigning on the streets for an end to sexual violence.

"Nothing will be changed," said Avinash Harmalkar. "Things like this happen every day and nothing will be changed.

Only if the world ends will anything change."

  • © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
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India's Slumdog census reveals poor conditions for one in six urban dwellers


Report says 64 million Indians live in degrading conditions and that a full survey would uncover even more

Children in Trilokpuri in the Indian capital New Delhi. Photograph: David Levene

One in six urban Indians lives in slum housing that is cramped, poorly ventilated, unclean and "unfit for human habitation", according to the country's first complete census of its vast slum population. In other words, nearly 64 million Indians live in a degrading urban environment very similar to the shantytowns portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire.

The first-ever nationwide report – prepared from data collated for the 2011 national census – looks at urban slums in around 4,000 towns across India. (A slum was defined as a settlement of at least 60 households deemed unfit for human habitation, but the report does not cover every town and city in this vast country.)

India's Planning Commission has recommended that urban clusters with as few as 20 households should be classed as slums. "We will be analysing the census data on the basis of the new definition also," said Dr C Chandramouli, the registrar general. "This is likely to increase the number of slum households across the country."

While the report described open sewers and poverty, it also shows that many residents own mobile phones and televisions in their shacks and have overcome a lack of infrastructure by rigging up elaborate – mostly illegal – electricity supplies.

Mumbai has the largest absolute population of slum dwellers: 41% of its 20.5 million people. But in percentage terms, India's commercial capital has been overtaken by two other megacities: the bustling port city of Vishakapatnam on the Bay of Bengal (43% of its 1.7 million inhabitants) and the central Indian city of Jabalpur, birthplace of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (42% of its 1.3 million people).

"This kind of shift could be due to the displacement of the working class," said PK Das of the Nivara Hakk housing rights group in Mumbai. "In the latest census, for instance, some municipal wards in central Mumbai dominated by the working class have actually shown a decline in the total population. This is because industries are creating fewer jobs in Mumbai, while smaller cities are attracting workers in the informal sector."

The report reveals another fact that provides a bleak vision of India's future urbanisation. Ten towns with a population of around 5,000 have been categorised as "all-slum towns". These are concentrated in four states: Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Sikkim.

"Unlike in the past, state governments are no longer involved in creating affordable urban housing for the poor," said Das. "After 1991, with economic liberalisation, this task has been left to the private sector. But housing for the poor is not profitable, so the private sector doesn't see it as a good investment."

Das pointed out that the slum rehabilitation programme in Mumbai involving the private sector has created only 137,000 houses in the last 22 years.

New Delhi, the capital, had a relatively low 15% of households in slums, while the big cities of Kolkata and Chennai had 30% and 29% respectively. Bengaluru, a high-tech centre, had only 9%.

Nationwide, more than one-third of slum homes surveyed had no indoor toilets and 64% were not connected to sewerage systems. About half of the households lived in only one room or shared with another family. However, 70% had televisions and 64% had mobile phones.

Maqbool Khan, 54, has lived in the seaside Geeta Nagar slum in South Mumbai for the last 40 years. The shantytown is close to posh apartment complexes inhabited by millionaires and senior officials. Khan runs a tailoring shop. He says that there are not enough municipal facilities for Geeta Nagar's 2,000 households.

"I feel embarrassed to tell you how we survive," he said in a telephone interview.

"We have to queue up for hours even to go to the toilet, so we often end up doing it in the sea. The government keeps promising to shift us to proper housing, but we remain stranded here."

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Plenty for Few: India's Economic Miracle Bypasses Poor


By Wieland Wagner

Unlike in China, India's economic miracle has failed to benefit the poor. Instead, the rich are getting richer in this notoriously divided land, and government support fails to reach those in need.

"I'm Princess Shahnaz Husain," India's cosmetics diva says with a hoarse voice as she welcomes guests to her palatial villa in New Delhi and kindly invites them to sit down. Her brown-toned hair is teased into a fiery mane, and her striped red robe glitters just as golden as her high-heeled sandals.

Just a few moments earlier, it seemed unimaginable that anybody could stand out against the florid splendor of this Indian living room. Gilded porcelain swans sparkle under glass coffee tables on Persian carpets. A ceramic dog crouches with its puppies in front of the fireplace. The walls gleam with brightly-colored paintings of floral arrangements in massive, ornate golden frames.

Yet, oddly enough, she alone dominates the entire scene: Princess Shahnaz, who rules over more than 400 beauty salons in India and around the world. Her name adorns beauty creams and shampoos made with ayurvedic medicinal plants, and she sells her products through upmarket stores from London to Tokyo -- in packaging embellished with her image from younger days.

Shahnaz won't reveal her age, but for over four decades she and her company have embodied the Indian economic miracle. Although she grew up in affluent circumstances -- her father was a judge and her mother was allegedly a princess in a royal dynasty -- she owes her commercial success to the rise of India's middle class.

Her customers are primarily nouveau riche Indians. Shahnaz recently began to offer them a miracle cream that is supposed to stop the skin from aging. "That will be a hit," she says.

Shahnaz belongs to India's Muslim minority but, like her fellow Indians who are Hindus, she is making provisions for her life after death by performing good deeds that benefit the poor.

When she is chauffeured through the streets of New Delhi in her silver Rolls-Royce, beggars rush up to the vehicle at each intersection. "They are, of course, familiar with my car," she says "and I always have a few rupees on hand for them."

Recently, she says, she helped a man with no legs begging in front of a traffic light. She arranged a job for him in one of her cosmetics production plants. "I found him a job as a watchman at the gate where he can sit," she says.

Shahnaz tells many such stories. For instance, there is the tale of a female road worker with dark spots on her face, who waited in front of her villa every morning until Shahnaz took pity on her. She gave the poor woman a cream for skin spots -- a product that would be prohibitively expensive for the average Indian. What's more, she financed her education in one of her cosmetics schools.

Even now, during the cold time of the year, the rich philanthropist says she has wool blankets placed at the entrance to her villa for the shivering poor. She sounds as if she were moved by her own efforts to help those less fortunate than herself.

She doesn't see poverty as a specifically Indian problem, though. "There are beggars everywhere in the world," she says, "even in London and Paris."

Growing Prosperity, Persistent Poverty

An analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) finds that the blatant gap between poor and rich is growing in India almost faster than anywhere else on the globe. Although the world's largest democracy amended its constitution in 1976 to declare that it was a socialist state, the fact of the matter is that the country is failing to give the huddled masses a fair share of the country's economic miracle.

This is one of the main differences between India and China, its rival up-and-coming Asian economic powerhouse: In China, some 13 percent of the population subsists on the equivalent of less than $1.25 (€0.97) a day, while one-third of all Indians have to make do with the same amount.

Experts at the University of Oxford have concluded that the level of poverty in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is roughly equivalent to that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African country that has been ravaged by years of civil war. To make matters worse, if the comparison is restricted to nutrition, Madhya Pradesh is significantly worse off than the DRC.

Critics such as Atul Kohli, a political scientist who teaches at Princeton University, contend that India's rapid economic growth, which began in the 1980s, has not led to a decline in poverty. Kohli's 2012 book, "Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India," has attracted worldwide attention.

Shankar Singh is one of those who dreams of a better life in vain. The 53-year-old works a few blocks from Shahnaz' residence as a security guard at Panchsheel Park, an enclave for the rich surrounded by walls and gates. He protects the villa of a Sikh businessman.

Shankar's boss has amassed a fortune selling sinks and toilets, but his security guard still lives with his wife and six children in an impoverished hovel right behind the gated community -- beyond the walls, where stray dogs and cows rummage through the refuse of the rich.

This is where the gardeners, cooks, chauffeurs and chambermaids of the nouveau riche live. Their neighborhood may be in one of Delhi's better slums, but they live in constant fear that they will slide back into abject poverty if they get sick or are fired. According to the results of the OECD analysis, informal jobs without any protection against dismissal are more prevalent in India than in virtually any other emerging economy.

Longing for Home

It is early afternoon, and Shankar is resting in his windowless dwelling in preparation for the night shift. He is wearing the same dark baseball cap he wears on duty. A small Hindu altar hangs on the wall. Shankar worships the god Shiva, the "auspicious one," who brings good fortune.

Shankar and his family are still waiting for their luck to change. They do not even have a washbasin. He and his sons wash up in front of the door every morning, while his wife and daughters somehow bathe inside. Water only flows between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., so that's when all the neighbors quickly fill up buckets and pots.

When Shankar moved to Delhi from the province of Uttar Pradesh 32 years ago, he dreamed of a better life. He hasn't been back to his home village for seven years now because he can't afford to travel there. Shankar earns 8,000 rupees a month, or the equivalent of €110. He pays 2,000 rupees a month in rent, and lives off the rest.

He can't even honor the Hindu gods with a modest display of fireworks at Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Instead, he gazes in amazement at Panchsheel Park, where well-heeled Indians stage increasingly extravagant firework displays year after year.

Shankar says he longs to see his relatives back in his village. And while he talks about the mustard fields, which are currently blooming with yellow flowers, the reporter strikes upon the idea of accompanying him to his village, at SPIEGEL's expense.

But first Shankar's boss has to be convinced to give him one or two days off. He agrees, but only under one condition: Shankar will only be allowed to travel by train, and in the cheapest class, not by plane. He says that his employee should not be allowed to get used to a life of luxury.

The intention here is to avoid blurring the differences between poor and rich. Shankar's family belongs to the lowest caste of farmers and, to make matters worse, he comes from Nepal, giving him an even lower status in Indian society.

Part 2: A Journey Back in Time

Uttar Pardesh is one of the poorest states in India, and people here are particularly trapped in their traditional dependency on large landowners. The fragmentation of Indian society into castes and religions thwarts modernization -- and it prevents India's poor from jointly rising up against the rich.

Driving through Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Shankar marvels at the monumental structures that were built by the former state governor, a woman named Mayawati. She governed here for nearly two decades before resigning in 2012. Mayawati belongs to the caste of the "untouchables," and she is an example of how populist politicians woo the poor -- and disappoint them over and over. Elephants carved in stone, the symbol of Mayawati's centrist Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), stand guard at the gate of a gigantic new park. A few blocks down the street, there is a statue of Mayawati herself.

It's roughly a four-hour drive on the highway from Lucknow to Rautpar, Shankar's village near the city of Gorakhpur. There are straw huts and roadside food stalls on both sides of the highway. The only signs of India's high-tech ambitions here are the ubiquitous mobile phone masts that dot the wheat fields. Over 800 million Indians use mobile phones, yet more than half the population has no access to sanitary toilets. That corresponds to conditions in the Central African Republic.

Shankar has to travel the last few hundred meters to his village on foot. A path between fields leads to huts made of tiles and clay. A crowd of neighbors gathers around him. They see him as the rich uncle from Delhi.

It's like a return to the Middle Ages, as nearly everything here is made of clay: the floor, the walls and the hearth where his sister-in-law cooks outdoors. Mahatma Gandhi would have approved. After all, it was in India's villages that the legendary freedom fighter sought a national identity. But his agrarian romanticism still continues to put the brakes on industrialization.

Shankar unpacks used clothing from his travel bag and, with a smile on his face, distributes it among his relatives. For just one moment, he is standing at the center of attention. Most of the young men here would like to follow his example and move away. However, unlike China, India has too few factories with low-paid jobs for the rural masses.

Not Poor Enough for Help

Indeed, it is the relatively well-educated who primarily benefit from the Indian economic miracle: IT engineers and college graduates who speak fluent English and work in call centers.

Out in the countryside, though, the only hope is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). This 2005 law guarantees every adult in the country 100 hours of paid work every year. Under NREGA, the government currently pays the country's poor over $7 billion to improve roads and build bridges. That's better than begging.

Furthermore, India helps its poor with food rations and other subsidies. But the aid often doesn't reach those in need. In a bid to cut out corrupt middlemen, the government has been making money transfers since January. It now directly pays scholarships and pensions to the accounts of some 245,000 needy individuals in 20 districts.

But what the governing Indian National Congress party praises as a "pioneering reform" is criticized by the opposition as a political trick to buy votes in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections.

In any case, Shankar receives none of this planned bonanza. His salary is too high to benefit from this program, but it's still not enough. In fact, he urgently needs to see a doctor and have a stubborn growth removed from his nose. "It costs roughly 4,000 rupees," he says, "and I don't have that much."

The Limits of Philanthropy

Meanwhile, his rich neighbors in Panchsheel Park come up with increasingly creative ways to spend their money. Dijeet Titus, a top Indian lawyer who represents foreign clients, loves to cruise along the streets of Delhi in his 1957 red Chevrolet Bel Air. In the southern part of the city, where the local moneyed aristocracy likes to spend the weekends at lavish country residences, the 48-year-old is building a museum for his growing collection of vintage cars -- a hangar with over 2,000 square meters (21,500 square feet) of space.

The luxury neighborhood with the so-called farmhouses is located on a dusty road. The wealthy residents use walls and barbed wire to seal themselves off from the misery outside their villas.

"First, I bought a house, then a second one, and then I asked myself: What do I buy now?" Titus is wearing an elegant pair of gold-rimmed glasses as he caresses the shiny grill of a silver Buick 90L from the 1930s.

By collecting such fine vintage cars, he has found a hobby that attracts attention even among the affluent of India. Years ago, Maharajas had themselves chauffeured around in many of these historic vehicles. Soon, the moneyed aristocracy in today's India will gather here under palm trees, enjoy cocktails and admire Titus' cars. He has already collected the appropriate antique furniture and stored it in another section of the huge hangar.

Like Princess Shahnaz, Titus thinks of the poor. He occasionally visits slums to help children there receive a better education. Sometimes he invites them to his home, shows them his antique cars and delights in the wonder in their eyes.

But Titus admits that even he can't change India. "My philanthropy is just a drop in the ocean," he says before walking further and showing off his next vintage car, a 1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25, a particularly impressive example of his exclusive collection.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

 

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